Greening the scent of Arabia

18 March, 2024

Sometimes called the scent of Arabia, resinous agarwood is one of the most expensive raw fragrance ingredients in the world. Known in the Middle East as oudh perfumes and bakhour incense, both products are made with the fragrant, resinous wood of trees in the Thymelaeaceae family. This wood is burned for incense and its precious resin used to create perfumes. The trees are mainly found in the forests of Southeast Asia, India and Bangladesh but demand for agarwood has rapidly outpaced the supply of slow-growing natural sources, and many species are now considered endangered. 

The compounds responsible for the complex fragrances of agarwoods are known as sesquiterpenes (STPs) and are difficult to create chemically.  

Now, a green synthetic solution to partially recreate agarwood- functionalized terpenes using engineered algae has been devised by KAUST Ph.D. student Sergio Gutiérrez and researchers from the Sustainable & Synthetic Biotechnology Group led by Kyle Lauersen, with support from KAUST’s Core Labs and Gyorgy Szekely’s group.

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